Epic Battles No. 4: 1965 judgeship race was bitter defeat for Lark
Republicans ruled the world in 1965 - at least the Northumberland County portion of it. The GOP, going into the general election, enjoyed a lead of 9,558 in voter registrations.
Republicans had grown accustomed to decade after decade of winning practically every election, with just a few notable exceptions. Then, in 1965, Michael Kivko, a Sunbury attorney who was a native of Mount Carmel, had the audacity to throw a bucket of cold water on Henry Lark's campfire.
As 1965 began, the county's two Republican judges, Robert Fortney and William Troutman, were completing their second two-year term. At the time, judges still ran for re-election, not retention, and Lark, the county Republican chairman, apparently expected that the judges would run yet another time.
So, in February 1965, Lark seemed offended that the county Democrats upset the "sitting judge" policy by tolerating the candidacies by Peter Krehel, of Kulpmont, and Kivko. No wonder he felt that way; that unwritten promulgation worked well for the Republicans in 1955. Fortney and Troutman were re-elected handily, with only token opposition from Krehel.
The next day, Fortney and Troutman officially bowed out of the race, saying, in a joint statement, that, "We cannot neglect our duties as judges to campaign." Fortney said later he had actually decided two years earlier that he would retire in 1965.
Republicans' worst nightmare was realized. A wide-open judgeship fight loomed; it attracted five candidates, and all of them cross-filed in both parties. Joining Kivko and Krehel were Democrat Eugene Mirarchi, of Kulpmont, and Republicans Frank S. Moser, of Shamokin, and state Sen. Preston B. Davis, of Milton.
The county Republican Party endorsed Moser and Davis. They won the GOP primary, but not without fighting off a strong challenge by Kivko, who was backed by independent Republicans who wanted to bring Lark down a peg or two. Democrats, rallying to Kivko, gave him one of their nominations along with Krehel, who narrowly edged out Mirarchi.
Political observers believed the race was between Moser, Davis and Kivko. Kivko, running a campaign separate from Krehel, took frequent slaps at Lark, stressing that he was the "free and clear" candidate - free of political obligations and clear in his pledge to keep politics out of the criminal justice system.
The judgeship race, which was regarded more and more as a feud between Lark and Kivko, generated widespread interest and brought 80 percent of the county's registered voters to the polls on election day.
Kivko wound up finishing first, with Moser second. Republicans managed to elect just half of its judicial ticket. Amazingly, Davis finished a distant fourth, behind Krehel.
Except for a 1951 insurgency in the Republican commissioner primary that was crushed four years later, the Kivko election was the most glaring loss on Lark's career. It was a harbinger of many more close elections - and near or actual Democratic victories - to come.
In a groundbreaking history of Northumberland County politics from 1963 to 1976 that was part of The News-Item's 1976 U.S. bicentennial edition, veteran courthouse reporter Chester A. Moore heralded the '65 judgeship race as one of the turning points in modern county political history. Moore described it as a dent in the GOP giant's armor.